I went a little nuts this December and bought me a bunch of DVDs. Among my purchases were a few in glorious black and white, including “12 Angry Men”, which I watched last night.
I knew the plot, I knew the outcome, but what got my attention this time around, was the reaction of the men to the one juror’s racist tirade. One by one, the men get up and quietly move to a position where the racist speaker can see only their backs. There is no pre-arranged agreement to do that that I could see. Each man got up and found a spot where he wouldn’t face the racist, and eventually the racist shut up.
And for the first time, watching an old movie, I felt a complete disconnect from the past. I did not recognize this behavior in the men, that is, I don’t see people nowadays acting this way. Where did this calm but effective way of showing dissent go to? I know it was used at the time, in the form of sit-ins and boycotts, by the civil rights movement, and initially used by Mahatma Gandhi’s followers during their struggle to liberate India. But as a method for making a point, it seems to have completely disappeared in my lifetime and seems not to even be an option.
People nowadays don’t react calmly, quietly, and clearly to ideas or truths they don’t like. They get into yelling matches, verbal or written, and they use slurs and insults, and accuse others of doing the same. Everyone wants their say, and no one wants to listen. The most extreme expression of this are acts of terrorism. (I’m guilty of not wanting to listen, too, I’m sorry to say. After all, it’s always the other guy who’s wrong, right?) In the movie, when there was one-on-one disagreement between the individual men, things got heated and rude, but quickly defused. But as a group, they moved as one, in one direction, and without a word of insult, without a note of aggression, they made their point clear: “We aren’t listening to this. It’s not the truth. We won’t support it.”
And it made me sad to note that one of the coolest ways to protest injustices, has become purely historical.
PS: “12 Angry Men” is still good to watch. It still feels contemporary, except for that one scene this blog post is about.